How do you describe a company that is celebrating its 75th anniversary even though to many new employees the company is just over 5 years old?
“Having employee ownership is the goal,” said George Walker, chairman and CEO of Neuberger Berman Group LLC, describing the firm that was founded in 1939, acquired by Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. in 2003, and reacquired its independence in May 2009.
To Mr. Walker, today's Neuberger Berman is an entrepreneurial company with a 75-year history that celebrates each May its freedom from Lehman Brothers.
Employee ownership takes many forms. Of course, there's the sense of ownership Mr. Walker wants for dealing with clients. “I want every employee to sit in a client's shoes,” he said. “It makes the place smarter. I want to drive our alignment with clients' interests.”
The employees took those marching orders to new musical heights, participating in a companywide jingle contest to celebrate the firm's 75th anniversary. The winning entry was videotaped and sung by employees in several offices.
Ownership takes other forms — in the company's internal operations, where employees are encouraged to make the company better, and in the volunteer and charity work in communities where the firm has offices.
Neuberger Berman executives each quarter give a “Faster. Better. Cheaper” award, recognition of efforts by employees whose achievements are often accomplished behind the scenes or in very technical fields.
For example, a recent “faster” award went to several employees who created an automated system for cash flows that reduced risk and reduced manual labor. A “better” award honored a team that created a video describing emergency evacuation best practices, replacing evacuation drills and available online.
“We want to know how we can push down the decision-making and get the employees more involved,” Mr. Walker said.
“Most ideas are employee-driven,” added Heather Zuckerman, managing director and chief administrative officer. “We ask employees to bring their best ideas.”
Employees laud the company for a variety of reasons.
“There is a strong work-life balance,” one employee said in the Best Places to Work in Money Management employee survey. “We are encouraged to pursue and excel in activities outside of work.”
“We have been able to maintain a boutique feel within our group and with our internal and external clients,” another said.
“The collaborative culture at Neuberger Berman extends to our internal work,” said a third.
Ownership also extends to the many communities where Neuberger Berman has offices. Every year, employees' embark on a series of projects, including more than 75 in April and May to celebrate the company's 75th anniversary.
In London, for example, employees helped refurbish a house with Habitat for Humanity; in Tokyo, they helped clean up a park. In Chicago, employees hosted 40 athletes to prepare them for the Special Olympics, said Elizabeth Cribbs, head of corporate social responsibility and president of the Neuberger Berman Foundation.
When Neuberger Berman became independent, “one thing we wanted to focus on was volunteerism,” Mr. Walker said. “We can make a difference. We want to remind people and ourselves why we're here.”